Sports, Thrill of Victory

OVC Tournament Championship: Jacksonville State earns first-ever trip to NCAA tournament

The Jacksonville State Gamecocks celebrate their 66-55 win over UT Martin in the Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. Jacksonville State won 66-55, earning an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY/ICON SPORTSWIRE

Jacksonville State University (JSU) entered the OVC Tournament as the fourth seed.

In the quarterfinals, the team beat Southeast Missouri. In the semifinals, the team beat top-seeded Belmont.

And on Saturday evening at Nashville’s Municipal Stadium, Jacksonville State beat UT Martin, 66-55, to earn the OVC Title.

This win marks the first OVC Championship for Jacksonville State, who joined the conference in 2003. They are also the first school in the country to earn an automatic bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament. 

Meanwhile, UT Martin had its three-game winning streak snapped and lost in the title game for a second straight year. In 2016, Austin Peay bested UT Martin in the final round.

Jacksonville State essentially controlled the title game from start to finish.

At 11:26 in the first half, the team established a 13-7 lead, after two free throws from Christian Cunningham. Thereafter the Gamecocks never looked back, staying ahead of UT Martin until the final buzzer.

The Gamecocks extended their lead to 36-23 by half. They had converted 40% (6-15) of their three-pointers, which is effectively the same as shooting 60% from two-point range. UT Martin had shot 1-of-5 from distance in the same timeframe.

Jacksonville State was cold at the start of the second half, unable to make a field goal until Erik Durham’s three-pointer with 11:42 left. But UT Martin was equally cold during the Gamecock’s slump and only pulled the game within 6-points at their best.

For the final ten minutes of play, Durham and Norbertus Giga led Jacksonville State to the finish line. Durham had a team-high 17-points (6-9 FG), and Giga scored all six of his points in the second half.

Greg Tucker was the second highest scorer for Jacksonville State. He scored all 14 (5-15 FG) of his points in the first half. Malcolm Drumwright contributed 13 points as well. 

For UT Martin Jacolby Mobley led the team with 18 points, Matthew Butler had 17 points and Javier Martinez had 13. They shot 41% (16-39) from the court, slightly higher than the team average of 35%.

Up next, Jacksonville State prepares for the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks will find out their opponent on Selection Sunday on March 12.

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